March 30, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Lianne Kolirin and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
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12:49 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Russian military spokesperson says "planned regrouping" around Kyiv and Chernihiv underway

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that a "planned regrouping of troops" was underway around Kyiv and Chernihiv, one day after Russian negotiators said Moscow's forces would take steps toward de-escalation around the two cities. 

"At the first stage of the special military operation carried out by the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of Donbas and Ukraine, it was planned to force the enemy to concentrate his forces, means, resources and military equipment to hold large settlements in these areas, including Kyiv," Konashenkov said in a statement. "To tie them up on the battlefield and without storming these cities, in order to avoid losses among the civilian population, inflict such a defeat on the armed formations of the Kyiv regime that would not allow it to use these forces in the main direction of operations of our armed forces - in the Donbas. All of these goals have been met."

Ukrainian officials have reported Russian shelling over the past 24 hours around both cities. US officials have been skeptical of Russia's claims of de-escalation, and some observers have suggested Russia's shifting military objectives are meant to conceal setbacks on the battlefield.

Konashenkov claimed that the "main tasks of the Russian armed forces in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions have been completed," adding Russian forces were regrouping in order to "intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of Donbas," in Ukraine's east.

12:43 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Biden told Zelensky the US would provide Ukraine with $500 million in "direct budgetary aid," White House says

From CNN's DJ Judd, Kevin Liptak, Jeremey Diamond and Kaitlan Collins

US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for about an hour, according to the White House.

Zelensky tweeted after the call that they "shared assessment of the situation on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Talked about specific defensive support, a new package of enhanced sanctions, macro-financial and humanitarian aid."

In a statement, the White House said Biden told Zelensky the US “intends to provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid” on the call.

The budgetary aid is to help pay salaries, among other things, according to an official.

“The leaders discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country,” the White House says, adding Biden also “reviewed the additional sanctions and humanitarian assistance announced last week.”

The call was scheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET (5:45 p.m. in Kyiv) “to discuss our continued support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.” It began at 11:08 a.m. ET and ended at 12:03 p.m. ET.

The call comes a day after Biden and other US officials voiced extreme caution at signals Russia is scaling back its military operations near Kyiv, suggesting they were waiting to see stronger signs of de-escalation before making an assessment of Moscow's intentions.

"We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We'll see if they follow through what they're suggesting," Biden said at the White House Tuesday.

Biden noted that in the meantime, the US will continue to "keep strong the sanctions" and "provide the Ukrainian military with their capacity to defend themselves."

12:08 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

US father helped his daughter and her baby trek through rugged terrain to escape Ukraine

(CNN)
(CNN)

William Hubbard, a US father from Massachusetts, helped his daughter Aislinn, grandson and her boyfriend leave Ukraine to Slovakia in a trek across the wilderness. 

The journey was arduous, she told CNN, and they had their two cats and multiple duffel bags with them.

"It was an eight-hour hike. It was very difficult, up a very steep mountain. We had to find an area that was discreet, and we were lucky that we didn't encounter any military along the way. We were able to get out," Aislinn, 19, said speaking from Austria during an interview on CNN.

The area they crossed was in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, and Aislinn slid down a muddy hill with her baby at one point.

Her father was in Slovakia tracking their progress through his phone.

"It was incredibly stressful, because I'm sitting there ... watching this little dot move. Then it would stop for a while. And I'm thinking to myself, 'what happened, did someone get hurt? Did soldiers get to them?' Because we had no communication. All I was doing was following a little dot on a map," he said.

Because men 18-60 years old are barred from leaving the country, her boyfriend will not be able to return to Ukraine, she and her father said.

They also had previous issues with documentation for the baby, because he was born at home during the pandemic and did not have a birth certificate.

"This wouldn't have been necessary if the Ukrainians and the [US] State Department would have assisted us in getting the proper paperwork in a timely manner, but they gave us no other alternative but to take the bull by the horns and hatch a plan that would work for us," Hubbard said.

The near-term plan right now, he said, is for Aislinn and her family to go to Prague and stay there to obtain the documentation needed.

1:02 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

First on CNN: Mariupol Red Cross warehouse hit by military strikes, satellite imagery confirms

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy, Nathan Hodge and Sandi Sidhu

(Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
(Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)

The Red Cross warehouse in central Mariupol was hit by at least two military strikes, new satellite images from Maxar Technologies confirm.

On Wednesday, the Azov Battalion — a unit that began as an ultra-nationalist militia but has since integrated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces — claimed on their Telegram channel that the warehouse had been hit by Russian military strikes, posting an image of the larger complex as evidence. 

CNN has obtained a satellite image from Maxar Technologies that confirms the allegation. 

Citing additional imagery it captured, Maxar said the northern end of the warehouse was hit sometime between March 19-22. A second military strike, on the southern end of the building, occurred sometime between March 23-26.

Sensory satellite data from NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System also confirmed that a number of explosions were detected in the vicinity on March 20 and every day between March 22-25.

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Jason Straziuso told CNN that it is a Red Cross warehouse.

“We do not have a team on the ground, so we have no other information, including on potential casualties or the extent of the damage," Straziuso said. "We can say that we had already distributed all aid supplies in the warehouse.”

No Red Cross staff have been at the warehouse since March 15, according to Straziuso, and that the organization does not know how the building may have been used since.

"Under international humanitarian law, objects used for humanitarian relief operations must be respected and protected at all times," Straziuso said. "But what we are most concerned by is the overall humanitarian situation in Mariupol and the relentless suffering inflicted on civilians living there. People are trapped with no safe way out of the city, and they are running out of the very basics needed for their survival."

Straziuso said that intense fighting has prevented the Red Cross from bringing any humanitarian aid to the city.

Liudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament commissioner for human rights, called for the “world community to condemn” the shelling of the building. “This is another war crime of the Russian army in accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and a gross violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions,” she said.  

There was no information on victims, Denisova added.

CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defence for comment. 

 

12:29 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Top US senators express frustration over delay of bill punishing Russia as discussions continue 

From CNN's Manu Raju 

(CNN)
(CNN)

Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed concern about the delay of the bill to revoke the normal trade status of Russia and Belarus.

"First of all, it doesn't have to be this way. If people just focus on the bottom line is that this is the key addition that our country needs to add economic firepower to the fight against Putin," he told CNN.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Crapo, the ranking Republican on the panel, said to CNN: "I wish we had been able to move last week. But as you know, in the Senate, we have to get unanimous consent or spend a week or more on a filibuster battle. We've been working really hard to get it put together and we've been making some progress. And my hope is that we'll be able to move soon."

More on the bill: The legislation would allow higher tariff rates on some imports from Russia and Belarus, where Russia launched some of its troops.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden called for suspending normal trade relations with Russia and said the US would ban imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds from the nation as part of an effort to ramp up economic pressure on Russia for invading Ukraine. The move requires approval from Congress. The House passed the bill on March 17 — one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an emotional appeal in a virtual address to Congress. Now the legislation must go to the Senate.

To schedule a vote in the United States Senate, it requires consent of all 100 senators. If one objects, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can take time consuming procedural steps to overcome the objection assuming he gets 60 votes.

But Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has objected to a quick vote as he's demanded changes to the bill's sanctions language, worried that it's too broad and could be abused by the US government. And Schumer has refused to eat up floor time to overcome the objection.

So talks continue to try to reach a deal and a quick vote.

CNN's Clare Foran and Kristin Wilson contributed reporting to this post. 

1:27 p.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Putin is attacking "core of transatlantic security," US secretary of defense says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion involves not just attacking Ukraine, but also “attacking principles at the core of transatlantic security.” 

Austin called the war in Ukraine “Putin’s war of choice” during opening remarks at the Pentagon on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with German Minister of Defence Christine Lambrecht.

“Putin’s war of choice has taken a terrible toll on civilian casualties and forced millions of innocent Ukrainians to flee their country,” he said. 

Austin thanked Germany for working with the US to deploy forces “to and through Germany in recent months,” as part of the US’s increased security presence in Europe. He also said he applauds Germany’s decision to spend 2% of their “economic output on defense.”

“Together, we send a clear message, and that message is any challenge to our security will meet a firm and united response. And our commitment to NATO’s collective defense is ironclad,” Austin said.

Lambrecht said the relationship between the US and Germany is “good” and “permanent” in her opening remarks.

“We met in very troubling times, and what is important for me is that the transatlantic relationship, especially the relationship between Germany and the United States, is meant to last and is sustainable, so we were able to show that we were able to unite NATO, that we were able to unite Europe against President Putin in the form of the sanctions that we decided on together, and especially through the support that we have shown our allies in the alliance,” Lambrecht said via a translator.

10:03 a.m. ET, March 30, 2022

US official: "We believe that Putin is being misinformed" about Russian military performance

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

The US believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being "misinformed" by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russia's economy, a US official tells CNN.

"We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth," a US official said.

The official said the assessment is based on declassified US intelligence findings.

The official added that the US has information indicating that Putin has become aware of the misinformation, leading to a rift between Putin and his top defense officials.

“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military. There is now persistent tension between Putin and the (Ministry of Defence), stemming from Putin’s mistrust in MOD leadership," the US official said.

The official said Putin did not know his military was "using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president."

10:34 a.m. ET, March 30, 2022

UNICEF says 2 million children have fled Ukraine, with more than 100 killed

From CNN's Richard Roth

A train with refugees fleeing Ukraine crosses the border in Medyka, Poland, on March 7.
A train with refugees fleeing Ukraine crosses the border in Medyka, Poland, on March 7. (Visar Kryeziu/AP)

Roughly two million children have now been forced to flee Ukraine — making up half of all refugees from the war — the United Nations Children's Fund said Wednesday.

More than 1.1 million have arrived in Poland alone, with hundreds of thousands in nearby countries of Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

UNICEF warned of a heightened risk of exploitation and trafficking for children fleeing violence. In an effort to quell those risks, the UN agency is scaling up “Blue Dots,” which are one-stop safe spaces for traveling families. 

More than 100 children have been killed in the conflict, UNICEF added, with more than 130 injured. 

More than 2.5 million children have been internally displaced within Ukraine, according to UNICEF.

9:53 a.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Zelensky asks for more weapons and urges port closures in address to Norwegian parliament

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on large screens as he addresses members of Norway's Parliament, The Storting, in Oslo, Norway, on March 30.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on large screens as he addresses members of Norway's Parliament, The Storting, in Oslo, Norway, on March 30. (Torstein Bøe/NTB/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for more weapons and for Europe to close its sea ports to Russia in an address to the Norwegian parliament on Wednesday.  

Zelensky asked for anti-ship missiles, Harpoon rockets, anti-air missile systems and anti-tank guns.

“All weapons you can help us with will be used only to protect our freedom, your freedom,” he said. 

Zelensky said Russia is blocking Ukraine’s sea ports, amounting to piracy. 

“Russia should not be able to use the world ports freely. This is a matter of global maritime security,” he said.

He warned the future of the “entire continent, from north to south, from east to west, is being decided right now” in Ukraine.